Revival Review: "Come out, come out... wherever you are."

With all the notoriety now surrounding the Hollywood bio-pic of Milk (see my review here), it's no surprise that the original Milk, also known as Rob Epstein's Oscar winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, would resurface. The film was released in 1984, six years after Milk's death by assassination, and also coincidentally, the year of shooter Dan White's release from prison. Despite the fact that the film was made decades ago, long before computers and even fax machines (as Rob joked), it's still as relevant today as it was then (and Hollywood would have to agree). A few weeks ago, hulu.com began streaming the film, and it was there that I was able to see it for the first time. However, last night, I was lucky enough to get to see it on the big screen at the Jacob Burns with Epstein himself there to talk about his creative process. There was something about seeing this film with an audience, especially after the release of Milk, that made last night very special. It was one of those times when you could tell everyone was reacting in unison. There was no doubt that the film nailed every minute.

Epstein's original documentary brainchild had been to do a film about the Brigg's Initiative (aka Prop 6). However, soon after beginning to do early research, he found that the right story to tell might be about Harvey Milk. Milk had become an icon for San Francisco and the Gay Rights movement, but it was through this documentary that much more of the world came to know about his legacy. The story is told through narration by different people who knew and were affected by knowing Harvey. Epstein interviewed everyone from the now famous Anne Kronenberg (his campaign manager) to a union machinist, who before meeting Harvey thought "if you beat up a gay, you were doing the community a service." The one thing all the narrators had in common, is that they came to love Harvey, and not only because of what he stood for, but because he was sometimes insane, rebellious, and always funny. Epstein hit gold with each of the storytellers, but that was in no way by accident. He, and others, spent months interviewing hundreds of people who knew Harvey (including lover Scott Smith who's not in the film, but is played in Milk by James Franco). Ultimately it was narrowed down to the right 8 people. Each voice gave you an insight, not only to Harvey, but to the issues of the time and how they affected them as individuals. They all do an incredible job of making you fall in love with Milk, and subsequently help you feel the weight of their loss. Their pain becomes yours.

The documentary does many things which the film Milk does not, one of which is go into the trial of Dan White, one of the most infamous trials to date. We discover that the man literally got away with murder. And not because of the "twinkie defense" as claimed, but because he was a handsome, white, catholic former fire fighter... and people like that just don't go committing murder in cold blood. While I understand the reason for Milk not telling this part of the story, I am glad that the documentary does. It is an extremely poignant part of the film about our justice system, and how too often, it just doesn't work. When doing a restoration of the film, Epstein had a option to add in a card at the end of the film saying that White committed suicide in 1985, but chose not to, deciding to keep the film intact as it was when finished.

The film is edited beautifully, from the opening of Diane Feinstein pronouncing the deaths of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, to the incredibly beautiful candlelight march shots. The score by Mark Ishman is so on point, that it, like the film itself, has become iconic. It's an incredible story that Epstein was brave for telling (especially at the time). To culminate all the hard work (sans computers), Epstein was awarded the Oscar for Best Documentary, a well deserved win. Towards the end of the Q&A, moderator (NYTimes Critic) Janet Maslin asked Epstein if he remembered his acceptance speech. He responded with a little laugh and said "Being Jewish, I didn't want to write anything down, thinking I might curse it, but then you have to write something... People started to say we were going to win, and I couldn't talk for a week. I do remember I thanked my partners on the film, and my partner in life." Throughout the interview, Maslin made no qualms about her strong feelings that Epstein was not thanked enough (though thanked in the credits) by the creators behind Milk. I understand her being of this opinion, given the rave review she gave to the documentary when it first came out and her emotional loyalty to it, but a Hollywood film and a documentary are entirely different no matter how you slice it. I think both films deserve a lot of credit in their own right, but being that the documentary paved the way for a story like this to be told, Epstein will always be considered a true original.

Short and Sweet

Gorgeous and emotionally compelling. The Times of Harvey Milk is an incredible example of what a good documentary can accomplish, and Epstein's look into Milk's public life shows you how much one person can accomplish, even if their life was cut short. While it was amazing to see it in a theater, it's good to watch this one at home, cause you'll probably cry (it's ok to admit it). Well edited, beautiful score, perfect narrative structure... it hits on all marks. And meeting Rob Epstein was an awesome (overwhelming) bonus!

Fav Quotes

"I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you... and you... and you... Gotta give 'em hope."
- (The real) Harvey Milk


Gmail does it again!

Google continues it's "take over the world" mission, with a new option to access Gmail, offline. This means that even without an internet connection, you can still do all the things you're used to doing with your mail. To try it for yourself now, go to the labs tab in your Gmail, and click enable next to Offline Gmail. Go to the following link for more details!

Official Gmail Blog: New in Labs: Offline Gmail

Oh The Places You'll Go... if you weren't sick

A recent and very persistent flu has afforded me a lot of time spent in bed. With limited options as to how to pass the time, of course I opted to catch up on my "movies to watch" list. So, now I present: How I Spent My Flu...

Persepolis - I'd been wanting to see Persepolis for a long time, but didn't know much about the original graphic novels, except that they were autobiographical and about an outspoken young girl, coming of age in Revolutionary/Post Revolutionary Iran. Based on that description alone, I wasn't sure how much I'd like or relate to the material, but the story is so well told and beautifully illustrated, that it makes an emotional impact. Given that I had a fairly high fever when I watched it, a film with subtitles may not have been the best idea... I'd imagine that I didn't grasp all the elements of the story as well as I could have, but what I did take away was the reality of what growing up in that kind of war zone might be like. But instead of feeling like the material was pounded into me or over dramatized, like you might with a live-action bio-pic, or disinterested because there was no one story tying it all together, like you might with a documentary, I felt connected. The fantasy realm of animation allowed the story to go into realms of imagination that it could not have done in any other format. This one will definitely require a second 'feverless' viewing.

Man on Wire - This can't be real, was my first thought when I heard the story of Philippe Petit and his high wire walk between the top of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. I mean, he'd have to be tied to something, right? So he wouldn't die?? But apparently not. In fact, Petit has stated that he has no respect for tightrope walkers who use safety wires or nets, and that the possibility of death is what excites him most. Of course Petit is also certifiably out of his mind... but I wish I could more like him (or have at least one tenth his passion). This Oscar nominated documentary chronicles Petit's "coup" and the incredible reality of a feat that surely only comes once in a lifetime. "It's impossible, that's sure. So let's start working," says Petit in the film. Just seeing the energy and insanity in his eyes as he describes being cosmically pulled to the towers, is enough to make you feel like you've done absolutely nothing with your life. This amazingly beautiful film had me glued to the screen and simultaneously jumping out of my bed. Despite never once mentioning the tragedy of September 11th, it's impossible not think about it as you watch (especially when they show footage of the tower's construction). This is a must-see, and hopefully it will soon be an Oscar winner!

Center Stage 2: Turn It Up - I'll admit it, I love the first Center Stage. Crucify me if you want for bad taste, but it is full of ridiculously fun moments like, "you break it, you bought it!" and "who let that disaster in here?" So when I heard there was a sequel, of course I had to check it out. I kept my expectations low, but secretly hoped it might be as much of a lovable cheesefest as the first one. Sadly, Center Stage 2 is more like Step Up 2, equally bad and with more urban hip hop dance sequences than ballet. This time the story revolves around self-taught dancer, Kate, who leaves behind her drunken dad and little sister to go audition for the American Ballet Academy. But as a twist (or so the writers think), she doesn't get in. I don't think I should really go into a lot more detail, but needless to say, there's a guy, and he's a dancer too. In spite of the fact that the movie is indisputably bad, it still grew on me, and by the end, it was guilty fun. Final consensus is: nowhere near as fun as the first, but still fun enough in it's own Step Up kinda way.

21 - Now on my second viewing, and I still really like this movie. Sure, it's lacking in many ways; There's pretty much no chemistry between the leads, it's a very surface storyline about a boy who gets caught up in "the dark side" of gambling, and it's so predictable that it hurts. BUT, I like it anyway. First off, Jim Sturgess is adorable, and this is far more watchable than his previous film, Across the Universe. Second, who doesn't love a good teenage gambling movie? And third, I'll watch anything with Kevin Spacey, even if it's bad (which it rarely is). Overall, it's just a very watchable movie, so I recommend that you do.

Get Real - I have to attribute seeing this 1998 film entirely to the incomparable Theo, without whom I would never have known, nor fallen in love with Steven Carter (Ben Silverstone), aka the most amazing being to ever fictionally walk the planet. Steven, an out of place, but brilliant prep schooler, knows he's gay, but no one else does (except for his best friend Linda). He meets class jock and heartthrob John Dixon, and their awkward fumbling affair begins (for anyone who's watched Hollyoak's John Paul and Craig at my urging, I'm sure this storyline sounds familiar). The plot is frequently re-used, but somehow it never gets old. What makes Get Real stand out from other films of it's genre though, is the otherworldly charisma, charm and lovability of Steven. He's an incredibly well written character, and acted perfectly. I can't recommend seeing this flic enough, though sadly it's no longer available to buy on dvd (or at least not easily). But luckily, netflix comes to the rescue once again. So please see Get Real, and get smitten by Steven. 

Annie Hall - I was trying to think out what I could say about Annie Hall that hasn't been said already... but the answer is nothing. It's Woody Allen's opus, it's a prototype for an entire genre of films and characters, it changed a generation... all of this I'm sure you already know. I loved the movie too, like everyone else. But, having seen it, after first seeing so many films that it inspired, it's hard to keep in mind that it is the leader of the pack. Without remembering that, it's at risk of feeling hackneyed, which is most certainly was and is not. Allen created the anti-heroe's hero, and that character is still going strong today (Superbad anyone?) Allen too, is still able to amaze and endear audiences with recent successes like Match Point, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (which is next on my netflix queue!).


Moo, Woof, and ... (well, what sound do bunnies make?)

  • About a month ago, a friend told me about a great printing website called moo.com. They are a small company based in London, but they have some brilliant ideas on how to make printing fun. Through their site you can make regular sized business cards, their acclaimed mini cards, greeting cards, post cards, and sticker books. While the site encourages you to submit your own photos and drawings to make your own designs, they also have an incredible amount of illustrator's designs to choose from (all of which are colorful and adorable). The site is extremely user friendly, and they are connected with flickr, facebook and more, to make it even easier to import photos. They also have a great blog, which give budding designers ideas for projects they can do utilizing the site. Here, they show you a great way to create a fun, reusable calendar that you may actually want to use. I've already ordered cards to advertise this very blog! So check them out and come up with your own ideas. 


First Pic from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland set

Here we see what is the supposed first leaked picture from Tim Burton's new remake of Alice in Wonderland. Johnny Depp is clearly going for a classic Mad Hatter, with a David Bowie twist... I'm pretty anxious to see what craziness Burton can come up with, but unfortunately, I'll have to wait till 2010 for its release... Other stars of the film will include Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen of Hearts, Michael Sheen as the Cheshire Cat, Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, and Crispin Glover as the Knave of Hearts. Should be a wild ride...

The SAG(A)'s, and what this means for the Oscars

First, here's the SAG rundown:

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actress in a Comedy Series
Tina Fey (30 Rock)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
30 Rock

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
Sally Fields (Brothers and Sisters)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
Hugh Laurie (House)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
Mad Men (YAY!!!) (also, in Mad Men news, Matthew Weiner has officially signed on again to helm the third season of the show, thank god! We all know the show wouldn't be what it is without him)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Laura Linney (John Adams)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
Paul Giamatti (John Adams)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
Kate Winslet (The Reader) (no surprise here, and did you see? her boobs looked fabulous...)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
Meryl Streep (Doubt) (YES! big surprise of the night!)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
Sean Penn (Milk) (YESSS!! every one had an amazing performance this year, but he was so perfect in Milk.)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Slumdog Millionaire (really, it's not a surprise, but given that it was the SAGS, i really hoped they might recognize Milk. that's the way it goes though.)

So now the question is, what does all of this mean for the Oscars? If they take their cue from every other award show this season, Slumdog will take home best picture. I guess I just have to accept that this is their year, and move on... I was very excited to see Sean Penn take home the actor for Milk, and having not yet seen Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler (which I'm sure is amazing), I'll be rooting for him on the 22nd. Now, I have to say Meryl winning best actress was a huge surprise, but in the best possible way (and wasn't she so cute in her little capri pants?! At risk of sounding trite, that's so Meryl)! She gave an incredible performance in Doubt, and any recognition is well deserved. Whether this immediately takes her out of the running for the Oscar, or puts her back in, I'm not quite sure, but either way, I think it's now an even more interesting race. Heath, of course, was no surprise (although his missing from the memorial slide show was...), but it was nice to see Gary Oldman accepting on his behalf. Finally, I am so happy for Mad Men!! They are truly one of the best shows on television, and continue to wow me consistently with every single episode. Congrats to everyone involved! And congrats to the most recognizable voice in show business, James Earl Jones for lifetime achievement. Your award looked pretty dinky, but I'm sure it means a lot.

Overall the program was kind of dull unfortunately, and lacking in real emotive acceptance speeches. I can see why ratings for awards shows are down... Maybe Jackman can help spice up the Oscarsss!


So, I dropped the ball....

Hello to my approx. 5 readers! I want to apologize for my lack of postage. It's been an insane couple of weeks, between having started working full time, getting sick, and being way too caught up in the Inauguration. So, my sincerest apologies. but now, it's time to get back on track! First off, January 20th, 2009 was officially one of the most exciting days, ever. I got to watch the man I voted for, Barack Hussein Obama, sworn in as President of the United States. I cried... a lot. It was a memorable day from the swearing in mix-up, to Aretha Franklin's crazy track hat, to that awful poem, and finally to Barack and Michell dancing 10 times to "At Last." And now we have a sexy, charistmatic, intelligent, African American President. I've never wanted to live in America more in my entire life. 

The man has a ridiculous amount of work ahead, but with the faith of the nation behind him, I hope and expect to see great things from our 44th President. So congrats to the entire Obama family, and here's hoping the next 4-8 years will be ones of peace and a better market!

Since I didn't have a chance to get out my full reviews of The Reader and Doubt in a timely manner, let me give you the short and sweet on both of them: 

The Reader - The Reader ends up telling a story which hasn't been addressed before. On the surface, it's a film about a young boy who has an affair with a much older woman, only to find out years later that she is on trial for committing Nazi war crimes. But on further inspection, it's a story about the first generation after the Holocaust, and how they did or did not deal with the sins of their family, friends and country. As a boy in the film says, "Everyone knew." How do you move past the horror and forgive? How do you love people who committed such heinous crimes? The ultimate message of the film is that love is an uncontrollable force, no matter how hard you try to fight it. The most stand-out aspect of the film has to be the performance of David Kross. German-born newcomer Kross, leaps off the screen with hypnotic vivacity... yeah, that's right, I said hypnotic vivacity. At only 19, he's already able to show his range, even within the confines of one role. I was amazed at how much I liked him and his character right from the start. Kate Winslet gives a beautiful performance too (better than her Revolutionary Road one), but she is still upstaged by her young male counterpart. I am still baffled as to why he hasn't been nominated for anything... Ray Fiennes has a relatively small role in the film as the adult version of Michael Berg (Kross). His performance feels too withheld at first, but as the film progresses, you feel he plays the part exactly as he should. Major kudos to all involved, especially the two beloved producers who we lost this year, Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.

I think the film will definitely see some Oscar glory, I only wish that some of it could have been bestowed on David Kross.

Doubt - The play turned film has now been nominated for 5 Oscars, 4 in the acting categories and one for best writing. At first, I was disappointed that it was not up for best picture, but then realized the strength of the film really does lie completely in the acting, and that Doubt ends up in the categories where it most belongs. The sweet and naive Amy Adams, the strong and hopeless Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the incomparable Meryl Streep all come together to give some of the best performances of their career. Well... that may be a bit much, but they do play some incredible characters, who are sure to stay with you long after the movie ends. Set in the mid 1960's, the film deals with themes of religion, segregation/integration, morality, sexuality and authority. You do not need to leave the theater knowing exactly what occurred in this small Bronx Catholic school, but you do leave with a sense of faith and belief, be it entrusted to one character, or the other. Meryl Streep needs no further praise from me, a lowly blogger, but suffice it to say, she rocked this part and played every moment to perfection. Amy Adams continues to give me reasons to love her with her signature sweetness and depth of character, Just as you begin to have her pegged in the role one way, she surprises you. Hoffman is perfectly suited to the film version of the play, giving the audience plenty of reasons to both doubt and trust his character. His facial expressions are some of the best in the film. 

So if you can't tell already, without a doubt, I loved the film, and I'll be sending vibes of good faith its way come February 22, Oscar night. 

So it's that time of year again. And as my friend pointed out to me. the 2009 Oscar nominations (also go here for apple's list complete with links to trailer, soundtracks, etc.), which were announced on the 22nd, actually came out on the day Heath Ledger died one year ago... I'm not saying it means anything, but it is a little weird. There are two things I can say with absolute certainty about this year's Academy Awards. First, Ledger will take home posthumous Oscar gold for best supporting actor in The Dark Knight, and everyone knows it. Second, Wall-E will win for best full-length animated feature. Also Slumdog Millionaire better take home best score! Other than that, it's any one's game.

As I have said before, this was a relatively weak year for film, but some of the best movies I saw were blatantly ignored. While Anne Hathaway is nominated for best actress, Rachel Getting Married, my favorite film of the year, is not anywhere to be found. Also snubbed was Happy-Go-Lucky (no nom for Sally Hawkins... for shame), and The Dark Knight, which for sure should have been in the best pic category. Clint Eastwood was also not featured this year, despite releasing 2 films. While Angelina Jolie is nominated for Changling, I doubt she'll win, and they didn't even acknowledge Gran Torino. But don't feel too bad for Clint yet, the man has already been honored more than Jesus. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button leads the pack with an absolutely ridiculous 13 nominations... CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT PEOPLE SEE IN THIS MOVIE?! He's Brad Pitt, he's old, he's young, who cares? He doesn't act people! He speaks with a southern drawl and he ages, backwards... that's the movie. Since this has been the year of Slumdog at all the other award shows, it stands to reason that it will likely take home best pic. While I very much enjoyed the film, (mostly the third quarter of it and especially the music), I can't say I'll be happy if it wins best picture. It just wasn't, and Danny Boyle has done better. The two big mystery races are for best actor and actress... Will it be new kid on the block, Anne Hathaway, or often overlooked brilliant standby, Kate Winslet? Will it be veteran Sean Penn, or comeback king, Mickey Rourke? Who knows, but I'll be watching, score card in one hand, mimosa in the other. 

Till next time (and I do promise to be back on track with the posts) check out film.com's 5 comedies to watch for in '09 and photos of the man sweeping the nation...


Day Watch blows my mind, Johnny Depp still makes me swoon, and Gossip Girl returns... it's officially a New Year!

Apologies for still not getting up my new reviews, etc. I was away where there was no Internet, and somehow I survived (better than that in fact)! Reviews are coming, I promise! But I thought for now I'd post a few quick notes of interest.

  • Richard Brody posts an interesting summary of some lesser known films, including Chinese cinema, the wonders of mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig, and David Fincher's Zodiac, which puts Benjamin Button to shame.
  • According to the incredible (and always reliable) Michael Ausiello, Michelle Trachtenberg is all set to return to the upper east side and reprise her memorable role of Georgina on Gossip Girl. She'll be blowing into town for multiple episodes towards the end of the season, can you say cliffhanger? I cannot tell a lie and say that I think Trachtenberg is a particularly talented or interesting actress, but one thing is for sure... it's always fun to watch her wreak havoc on my favorite drama queens. And of course, the best news: GOSSIP GIRL BACK WITH NEW EPS TONIGHT!
  • Part of my weekend away included watching a little Russian film called Day Watch (see photo above), sequel to Night Watch, better known as the craziest, most insanely imaginative film I have seen, maybe ever. I was skeptical of it at first, having only seen the dvd cover (which pretty much repelled me), however this is truly a case of "don't judge a dvd by it's cover." The movie blew me out of my seat, off the couch and onto the floor. I still can't fully explain the plot, but at it's base... It is a sequel following the character of Anton who belongs to a group called the Night Watch. This group has a chosen one, a Neo if you will, who is fated to fight the forces of the darkness. This chosen one happens to be Anton's girlfriend and apprentice. However there is another group, of dark beings (including some unique vampires who drink from juice boxes) called the Day Watch. They also have a chosen one, who happens to be Anton's son. Both groups intertwine and unravel as they chase the chalk of fate. Like I said, the movie is bonkers. The films are based on a well loved Russian book series that Timur Bekmambetov (of recent Wanted fame) directs with skill and laborious precision. Twilight Watch, the third in the series is slated as in pre-production, but has already been much delayed due to Bekmambetov's shooting of Wanted. To say I enjoyed Day Watch would be a massive understatement, but to say I understood it would be a lie. Be prepared to embark on a dizzying visual feast.
  • Film.com posts a great article chronicling some of our beloved returning t.v. favorites, including Nip/Tuck, Big Love and Lost.

So get ready people, it's a new year, and a clean slate. Do what you want, and don't waste time doing anything else.